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Music of Asia

This guide is designed to help get students started on research on the musical traditions of Asian peoples


Welcome to the Asian Classical Music Initiative’s International Conference at Rutgers University from the Rutgers University Libraries. 

While you are here in New Brunswick, we hope you take some time to explore our extensive collection of materials related to Asian Classical Music at the Rutgers University Libraries.  

At the Performing Arts Library at Douglass Library, here on Douglass Campus, you will find scores, books, and recordings about classical music in many Asian countries and Asian American classical performers and composers. Our collection is particularly strong in scores from East Asia, especially from Chinese composers, including many by two of this conference's special guests, Chen Yi and Huang Ruo. 

At the East Asian Library at Alexander Library, on the College Avenue Campus, you will find many music materials in Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. Our East Asian collection is especially deep in librettos and materials for traditional Chinese opera and scores in Jianpu number notation. 

Scores by Takemitsu, Ung, and Chen in Douglass Library

East Asian Library

The East Asian Library, located on the second floor of Alexander Library, hosts collections in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean vernaculars.

The library has a comprehensive set of reference tools in Chinese and a limited collection of Japanese reference tools. Some reference works are also available in Chuang, Miao, Tibetan, and Vietnamese.

For more information and research tools in East Asian languages, see the East Asian Library website.

Music score in Chinese number notationMusic scores in the East Asian Library

Chen Yi

Huang Ruo

Picture of  Huang Ruo

Huang Ruo has been lauded by the New Yorker as “one of the world’s leading young composers” and by the New York Times for having “a distinctive style.” His vibrant and inventive musical voice draws equal inspiration from Chinese ancient and folk music, Western avant-garde, experimental, noise, natural and processed sound, rock, and jazz. As a member of the new generation of Chinese composers, his goal is not just to mix both Western and Eastern elements, but also to create a seamless, organic integration. Huang Ruo’s diverse compositional works span from orchestra, chamber music, opera, theater, and dance, to cross-genre, sound installation, multi-media, experimental improvisation, folk rock, and film.

Kui Dong

Kui Dong_Photo by Duo Huang

Kui Dong’s compositions span diverse genres and styles that include ballet, orchestral and chamber works, chorus, electro-acoustic music, film scores, multi-media art, and free improvisation. Her works written in the United States show a unique synthesis of influences from avant-garde experimental, jazz, and other ethnic music, and at the same time maintain a profound respect to Western classical music and a deep cultural connection with her roots. She sometimes incorporates theatre, as well as Chinese and non-western instruments and musical concepts into contemporary settings.

Featured Books in RUL

Locating East Asia in Western Art Music

How does a piece of music embody the sound of a different culture? The traditional musics of China, Japan and Korea have been an important source of inspiration for many Western composers. Some, like Chou Wen-chung and John Cage, have moved beyond superficial borrowing of "Eastern" musical elements in earnest attempts to understand non-Western principles of composition. At the same time, many Asian composers, often trained in the West or in Western music traditions, have been using Asian elements to create works of unique musical synthesis. As a result of such cultural interpenetrations, the landscape of Western art music has been irreversably altered. Locating East Asia in Western Art Music is a comparative study of Asian-influenced Western composers and Western-influenced Asian composers, and the first sustained exploration of this cross cultural exchange. Bringing together work by music theorists, musicologists and ethnomusicologists, this book explores how musical notions of East and West are constructed and utilized by composers, and reevaluates the many ways East Asian composers have contributed to developments in twentieth century music. Composers discussed include John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, Chou Wen-chung, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Isang Yun, Tan Dun, John Zorn, and Henry Cowell. CONTRIBUTORS: Hugh De Ferranti, Yayoi U. Everett, Judith Herd, Ellie Hisama, Eric Lai, Frederic Lau, Fredric Lieberman, Steven Nuss, Nancy Rao, and Yu Siuwah.

Musicians from a Different Shore: Asians and Asian Americans in Classical Music.

In the first book to account for the growing prominence of Asians in the world of Western classical music, Mari Yoshihara grapples with the significance of this trend. This is a book about the about the origins of a social and cultural phenomenon, but it is also about the lives and work of individual musicians devoted to their art.

Music Cultures of the Pacific, the near East and Asia

The purpose of this book is to survey the basic kinds of music and musical instruments found in the major oriental civilizations and in the island cultures of the Eastern Hemisphere. It is also intended as an introduction to the basic attitudes, techniques, and nomenclature of the discipline of ethnomusicology. Presents a romanization of the book of vocal examples along with a translation or explanation of their meaning. A sonic glossary index at the end of each chapter shows all non-western terms in alphabetical order including a unique prononciation audio cassette. The inclusion of human figures in all new drawings add information about playing positions as well as instrument designs. Contains a unique cassette of pronunciations by noted and qualified speakers.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Music of India

The most authoritative, comprehensive, and up-to-date reference on the subject, this encyclopaedia covers the story of music in India spread over almost 2000 years and includes more than 5000 in-depth entries by over 100 acclaimed contributors from India and abroad.Covering classical, folk, film, and other forms of music in India, the three volumes provide an overview of the historical and cultural contexts of the musical forms, instruments, and composers. Fully cross-referenced, the encyclopaedia includes detailed entries on all forms of music, dance, raga,tala, gharana, treatises, instruments, and technical terms, and biographical notes on vocalists, musicologists, saint poets, gurus, composers, dancers, and instrumentalists. The over 200 rare photos, paintings, and line drawings of instruments, musicians, and musicologists from family albums andprivate collections enhance the visual appeal of the work. For the first time, this major undertaking will help to explain much of what music in India is all about and open the subject for a new audience, both in India and abroad.

A Critical History of New Music in China

By the end of the nineteenth century, Chinese culture had fallen into a stasis, and intellectuals began to go abroad for new ideas. What emerged was an exciting musical genre that C. C. Liu terms "new music." With no direct ties to traditional Chinese music, "new music" reflects the compositional techniques and musical idioms of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European styles. Liu traces the genesis and development of "new music" throughout the twentieth century, deftly examining the social and political forces that shaped "new music" and its uses by political activists and the government.

Electroacoustic Music in East Asia

This book illuminates the development of electronic and computer music in East Asia, presented by authors from these countries and territories (China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan). The scholars bring forward the cultural complexities and conflicts involved in their diverse encounters with new music technology and modern aesthetics. How electronic music attracted the interest of composers from East Asia is quite varied - while composers and artists in Japan delved into new sounds and music techniques and fostered electronic music quite early on; political, sociological, and artistic conditions pre-empted the adoption of electronic music techniques in China until the last two decades of the twentieth century. Korean and Taiwanese perspectives contribute to this rare opportunity to re-examine, under a radically different set of cultural preconditions, the sweeping musical transformation that similarly consumed the West. Special light is shed on prominent composers, such as Sukhi Kang, Toshiro Mayuzumi, Toru Takemitsu, and Xiaofu Zhang. Recent trends and new directions which are observed in these countries are also addressed, and the volume shows how the modern fusion of music and technology is triangulated by a depth of culture and other social forces. This book was originally published as a special issue of Contemporary Music Review.

Music in Japan

Music in Japan offers a vivid introduction to the music of contemporary Japan, a nation in which traditional, Western, and popular music thrive side by side. Drawing on more than forty years of experience, author Bonnie C. Wade focuses on three themes throughout the book and in the musical selections on the accompanying CD. She begins by exploring how music in Japan has been profoundly affected by interface with both the Western (Europe and the Americas) and Asian (continental and island) cultural spheres. Wade then shows how Japan's thriving popular music industry is also a modern form of a historically important facet of Japanese musical culture: the process of gradual popularization, in which a local or a group's music eventually becomes accessible to a broader range of people. She goes on to consider the intertextuality of Japanese music: how familiar themes, musicalsounds, and structures have been maintained and transformed across the various traditions of Japanese performing arts over time. Music in Japan is enhanced by eyewitness accounts of performances, interviews with key performers, and vivid illustrations. Packaged with an 80-minute CD containing examples of the music discussed in the book, it features guided listening and hands-on activities that encourage readers to engage actively and critically with the music.

Music in China

Music in China offers a unique exploration of the rich, dynamic, and multifaceted Chinese musical landscape. In contrast with previous scholarship--which focused almost exclusively on the role of music in elite culture--this volume takes a balanced look at a variety of traditional and modern genres, including those performed among local and regional folk musicians, in academia, in the media, and on concert stages both inside and outside of China. Using the interrelated themes of identity, modernization, and ideology as a narrative framework, author Frederick Lau discusses the musical features of the selected genres, the processes through which they came into existence, and related socio-political issues. Lau draws on his own extensive fieldwork and performance experience in both mainland China and its diasporic communities to show how the ever-changing Chinese musical tradition takes on particular meanings in China, in overseas Chinese communities, and in diverse international settings. Enhanced by eyewitness accounts of local performances, interviews with key performers, vivid illustrations, and hands-on listening activities, Music in China provides an accessible and engaging introduction to Chinese music. It is packaged with an 80-minute audio CD containing examples of the music discussed in the book.

Music in Korea

Despite its longstanding position as a distinct cultural force in East Asia, Korea continues to be underrepresented in world music texts. Music in Korea is the first brief, single-volume text to provide a thematic, succinct introduction to the music of Korea - a region whose volatile political climate has often overshadowed its rich cultural and musical traditions. Based on author Donna Lee Kwon's extensive fieldwork, the text features interviews with performers, eyewitness accounts of performances, and vivid illustrations. Kwon uses three themes - Korea as a transnational player in East Asia, the intersection of Korean music and cultural politics, and Korea'smaintenance of its strong cultural identity through both musical and aesthetic continuity - to survey the region and draw parallels and contrasts between its various traditions. Each theme lends itself to a discussion of Korea's classical musical customs and its contemporary developments. Packagedwith an 80-minute audio CD containing musical examples, the text features numerous listening activities that engage students with the music. The companion website ( includes supplementary materials for instructors.

The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea

Music in Korea: pp. 839-1034
Bibliography: pp. 1110-1116

Asian and Asian-American Composers in RUL

Rutgers University Libraries has extensive holdings of scores and recordings by Asian and Asian American composers. Below is a list of some (certainly but not all) of the more prominent composers in our collections:






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